Must-read Graphic Novels That Inspired Our Team

By Amelia Rubio 2 weeks ago

Graphic novels are powerful. The union of writing and visual elements makes them both entertaining and interesting. But they are also inspiring and educational; we can learn from their art and also from their messages. 

One of the main differences between these and comics is the narrative. Graphic novels’ stories are more complex and usually longer. 

The world of graphic novels is, indeed, exciting and rich, but also vast if you don’t know where to start. We asked some of our designers colleagues about the graphic novels that inspired them, and we’ve made this selection with some of the must-read novels that you should add to your list.

If you’re looking for some graphic novels to read and don’t know where to start, here are 10 of our favorite books:

Ghost World (1997) by Daniel Clowes

ghost world cover

Why it inspired us: 

“One of the things that I like the most is that dialogs are realistic and the visuals perfectly match the writing. How is it possible to recreate such a complex world with a tricolor palette? Just great.”

It’s a novel of ghosts, but not in a traditional way. Ghost World has become a classic in the graphic novels’ world. It’s the story of two teenage girls that just finished high school and are trapped in that rare transition moment in life from teen to adulthood. Daniel Clowes combines humor and cynicism to ironically talking about this awkward moment in life that we all have to go through.

ghost world sample

Although sombrous and sharp at the beginning, there’s something enjoyable about the two characters, and even real. They invite us to reflect on that time in our lives that we don’t know what to do. They are always struggling with the question “who am I?”, which makes the novel so relatable. 

Here (2004) by Richard McGuire

here cover

Why it inspired us:

“With barely any text, the novel has to tell a lot. I really like the use of color, which is exquisite, and the style to differentiate eras, as well as the arrangement of strips with parallel actions”

Have you ever wondered who had been sitting in the same room you are now?

Here is a graphic novel by Richard Mcguire limited in space, but infinite in time. By depicting the corner of a room, the author magistrally tells everything that happened in that small space over thousands of years. On a single page, you can travel to the past and the future at the same time and see the different experiences at the same point. The room, which belongs now to a family house, it was previously inhabited by Native Americans. 

here page

Here is a story about the course of the time. It invites the reader to reflect on the caducity of human life through realistic and random illustrations about the past and the future. It plays with the idea that time is not linear, but that everything happens at the same time.

You will quickly feel related to the book. There’s something about the familiarity of the room achieved by the use of warm colors combined with the random situations that will get you. If you want to experience something different, this is your graphic novel.

Killing and Dying (2015) by Adrian Tomine 

killing and dying cover

Why it inspired us:

 “Apart from the drawing style and colors- which I think are great -I really like the fact that he keeps some of The New Yorker style. The stories are about everyday people, which may seem average, but somehow captivate you”.

This novel is a must reading formed of 6 short stories where the author experiments both artistically and narratively. Topics such as loneliness, relationships, inadaptability, and social anxiety play a leading role in this graphic novel. Within the book, the reader will meet different people with different problems, which makes it so realistic. That’s kind of how real life works.  

killing and dying sample

Through the pages, Tomine gives you the opportunity to observe the characters, get to know their struggles and concerns from an outsider point of view. You’ll get the chance to be part of a diverse and enriching experience through other people’s lives.

Tomine is well-known for his covers for The New Yorker, and some of his clean and detailed style can be appreciated in the novel.

Wrinkles (2007) by Paco Roca

wrinkles cover

Why it inspired us:

“What I love most about Wrinkles is that it’s an inspirational story written with incredible sensitivity. We all get the seriousness of the topic, but at the same time we can laugh with the characters”

One of the things that make graphic novels so special is the meaning behind the story. We can always get a lesson from them, and a great example is Paco Roca’s graphic novel Wrinkles. 

Paco Roca decided to write the novel because of his parents. He wanted to talk about older people and remind us that every stage of life matters and is beautiful.

Wrinkles is the story of two men living in a retirement home for elderly people with dementia. One of the characters has Alzheimer and, together with his old roommate, tries to fight dementia and retain his memory. The novel has received many awards and has been adapted to the screen as an animation film under the same name, Wrinkles (2011). 

wrinkles page sample

What looks sad and depressing at the beginning, later it becomes a masterpiece that successfully approaches topics never seen before in graphic novels. It’s undoubtedly a life lesson that we all should learn from. 

Asterios Polyp (2009) by David Mazzucchelli

asterios polyp cover

Why it inspired us:

“It’s not the story itself. It’s the whole. The colors, shapes, and strips are also part of the narrative. No matter how many times I read it, every time I find different details I didn’t notice previously”

Asterios Polyp is a graphic novel named after its main character. Asterios is an architect and university professor who loses everything after a fire on his 50th birthday. After the accident, he’s willing to start over and forget about the person he was before. But the journey isn’t easy, and he’s forced to live outside the safety net of his previous life. 

David Mazzucchelli captures his personal concerns and doubts through a character with real and mundane issues. It’s what makes this novel so interesting: beyond the story itself, there’s a character who goes through an existential journey and learns on the way. Basically, what all humans do.

asterios polyp sample

The author has a unique technique and perfectly combines text and visual elements as if they were a single storyteller. The book is full of details and meaning and will tell you something different every time you read it. Totally a must-read.

Polina (2011) by Bastien Vivès

polina cover

Why it inspired us:

I love the plot. It talks about the satisfaction of achieving your dreams, and I find it really inspiring. However, what I really like is how it’s graciously drawn”.

Polina is a story of self-discovery and development. The main character is Polina, a young girl who wants to achieve her dream of becoming a ballet dancer. The path, though, isn’t easy for this girl, and she has to work hard to satisfy the demands of her critical ballet teacher.

polin sampleAlthough, at first glance, this comic may not attract much attention because of the type of drawing, the story about the dance is full of poetry and captivates you from the very beginning. The author brilliantly captures the essence of ballet through his illustrations: heavy stroke, no color, minimalist figures, and balanced composition.

This novel is, indeed, one of a kind. Bastian Vivès successfully manages to join two apparently different worlds: ballet and graphic novels. 

Seconds (2014) by Bryan Lee O’Malley 

seconds cover

Why it inspired us:

“I recommend this novel for many reasons: the style, the contrast of colors, the compositions, and the arrangement of strips. In addition, I love the millennial and fun tone that the author uses to tell the story” 

What would you change to get a perfect life? 

The main character of Seconds, Katie, is a young woman whose life is almost perfect: she’s got her dream job as a successful chef. But somehow, her life change and things don’t come out as she expected (who can relate?☝️). Luckily, she’s given the possibility to amend her mistakes over and over to get a perfect life. However, things always get weird. 

The story itself is powerful. Brian Lee O’Malley’s book is about the decisions we make, the consequences in our lives, and how they affect the world around us. Pretty deep, huh?

seconds sample

It’s a quick read and visually fun. The cartoonist follows a manga-like art with a reddish color palette that gives it a vivid and energetic look.

Footnotes in Gaza (2009) by Joe Sacco

footnotes in gaza cover

“I recommend this graphic novel because it tells a story that actually happened. Apart from the excellent research work, Joe Sacco manages to intertwine politics and art remarkably by only using black and white illustrations”

Footnotes in Gaza’s journalistic spirit differs from the other graphic novels listed in this compilation. It’s actually a novel that talks about war and death during the Suez Crisis.

footnotes in gaza sample

During the conflict, more than 300 people were killed in 1956 in southern Gaza. What Joe Sacco does here is to combine both his journalistic and artistic skills to reconstruct what happened there by digging into the memories of survivors. 

Why footnotes? Because, according to the author, all these stories have been left out of History and only appear as footnotes

My favorite thing is monsters (2017) by Emil Ferris

my favorite thing is monsters cover

Why it inspired us:

“The novel is stunningly drawn with a Bic pen and recreates famous paintings! It’s admirable how the author goes from realistic illustrations to cartoonish drawings by using this technique.”

If you like fantasy and monster stories, this book is a must-have in your bookshelf. 

Katie Reyes is a 10-years-old girl living in Chicago in the ’60s who tries to solve the mysterious murder of her neighbor. Katie uses her imagination as a gateway to escape the real world, that’s why throughout the novel, you’ll see how reality, fantasy, and horror twine together. 

my favorite thing is monster sample

But don’t be deceived: Emile Ferrer’s story is about both imaginary and real monsters. The author skillfully creates fantasy to discuss other serious topics such as violence, the Holocaust, Nazi Germany, sexual abuse, bullying, racism, and art. 

The graphic novel won three 2018 Eisner Awards. The style used by Emil is wide-ranged and brilliant, which makes the novel so interesting.

Bad gateway (2019) by Simon Hanselmann

bad gateway cover

Why it inspired us:

“It’s like reading a sitcom. Its humor is crude but, at the same time, it goes deep into the characters. The underground-like style is original and enjoyable”.

Bad gateway is actually the fourth book in a series featuring main characters Megg and Mogg. Previous books are Megahex, Megg & Mogg in Amsterdam, and One More Year. 

If you feel like you spend most of your valuable time watching sitcoms, then Bad Gateway is a must reading for you. Here is the fun about it: Megg is a depressive witch who uses a lot of drugs and Mogg is her boyfriend (and a cat), who’s smoking all day. Both characters are constantly struggling with drug addiction, depression, and personal failure.

With this novel, Simon Hanselmann invites you to enter this bizarre and marginal world, where the characters are allowed to be politically incorrect and immature.  But at the same time, it’s hilarious and entertaining.

bad gateway sample

All within the novel is subversive, even the artwork itself. While the story and dialogs are crude and outrageous, the illustrations’ style is slightly childish and cartoonish, which differs for the topic. And that’s what makes it so interesting and absorbing.

Let’s make this list bigger

Did you like the selection? Of course, there are other really good graphic novels out there that deserve to be included. Do you have any recommendations? Please, leave a comment and tell us which are your favorites. Let’s create together a list of top graphic novels.

By Amelia Rubio

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